Pakistan army pushed political role for hardline groups

A resident walks past a parked car, decorated with a poster of Mohammad Yaqoob Sheikh, nominated candidate of political party, Milli Muslim League (MML), during an election campaign for the National Assembly NA-120 constituency in Lahore, Pakistan on September 9, 2017. (Reuters)
Updated 16 September 2017

Pakistan army pushed political role for hardline groups

LAHORE: A new Pakistani political party controlled by militants with a $10 million US bounty on his head is backing a candidate in a by-election on Sunday, in what a former senior army officer says is a key step in a military-proposed plan to mainstream militant groups.
The Milli Muslim League party loyal to Hafiz Saeed — who the US and India accuse of masterminding the 2008 Mumbai attacks that killed 166 people — has little chance of seeing its favored candidate win the seat vacated when Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was removed from office by the Supreme Court in July.
But the foray into politics by Saeed’s militants charity is following a blueprint that Sharif himself rejected when the military proposed it last year, retired Lt. Gen. Amjad Shuaib told Reuters.
“We have to separate those elements who are peaceful from the elements who are picking up weapons,” Shuaib said.
Pakistan’s powerful military has long been accused of fostering militant groups as proxy fighters opposing neighboring arch-enemy India, a charge the army denies.
Saeed’s religious charity launched the Milli Muslim League party within two weeks after the court ousted Sharif over corruption allegations.
Yaqoob Sheikh, the Lahore candidate for Milli Muslim League, is standing as an independent after the Electoral Commission said the party was not yet legally registered.
But Saeed’s lieutenants, JUD workers and Milli Muslim League officials are running his campaign and portraits of Saeed adorn every poster promoting Sheikh.
Another extremist Fazlur Rehman Khalil has told Reuters he too plans to soon form his own party to advocate strict Islamic law.
“God willing, we will come into the mainstream — our country right now needs patriotic people,” Khalil said, vowing to turn Pakistan into a state government by strict Islamic law.
Saeed’s charity and Khalil’s Ansar ul-Umma organization are both seen by the US as fronts for militant groups the army has been accused of sponsoring. The military denies any policy of encouraging radical groups.
Both Saeed and Khalil are proponents of a strict interpretation of Islam and have a history of supporting violence — each man was reportedly a signatory to Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden’s 1998 fatwa declaring war on the US.
Analyst Khaled Ahmed, who has researched Saeed’s Jamaat-ud-Dawa charity and its connections to the military, says the new political party is clearly an attempt by the generals to pursue an alternative to dismantling its militant proxies.
“One thing is the army wants these guys to survive,” Ahmed said. “The other thing is that they want to also balance the politicians who are more and more inclined to normalize relations with India.”
The military’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency first began pushing the political mainstreaming plan in April 2016, according to retired general Shuaib, a former director of the army’s military intelligence wing that is separate from the ISI.
He said the proposal was shared with him in writing by the then-ISI chief, adding that he himself had spoken with Khalil as well as Saeed in an unofficial capacity about the plan.


Two accomplices in Kenya’s Westgate attack jailed for 33 and 18 years

Updated 30 October 2020

Two accomplices in Kenya’s Westgate attack jailed for 33 and 18 years

  • Mohamed Ahmed Abdi and Hassan Hussein Mustafa, both 31, were found guilty on October 7 of conspiring with and supporting the four assailants
  • The convicted men were in regular contact with the attackers who at midday on September 21, 2013, stormed the upscale Westgate mall in the Kenyan capital

NAIROBI: A Kenyan court Friday handed prison terms of 33 and 18 years respectively to two men accused of conspiring with the Al-Shabab extremists who attacked Nairobi’s Westgate shopping mall in 2013, killing 67 people.

Mohamed Ahmed Abdi and Hassan Hussein Mustafa, both 31, were found guilty on October 7 of conspiring with and supporting the four assailants from the Somalia-based extremist group who died in what was then Kenya’s worst terrorist attack in 15 years.

The accused asked the judge for leniency, saying they had already served seven years behind bars and had family to care for.

“Despite mitigation by their defense lawyers on their innocence, the offense committed was serious, devastating, destructive, that called for a punishment by the court,” Chief Magistrate Francis Andayi told a Nairobi courtroom.

He sentenced the men to 18 years for conspiracy and 18 for supporting extremists, but ordered they serve both terms together. Abdi was also given an additional 15 years for two counts of possessing extremist propaganda material on his laptop.

He will serve 26 years and Mustafa 11, taking into account their pre-trial detention.

The convicted men were in regular contact with the attackers who at midday on September 21, 2013, stormed the upscale Westgate mall in the Kenyan capital and began throwing grenades and firing indiscriminately on shoppers and business owners.

A four-day siege ensued — much of it broadcast live on television — during which Kenyan security forces tried to flush out the gunmen and take back the high-end retail complex.

Although there was no specific evidence Abdi and Mustafa had provided material help, the court was satisfied their communication with the attackers amounted to supporting the armed rampage, and justified the guilty verdict for conspiracy.

The marathon trial began in January 2014. A third accused was acquitted of all charges.
The Westgate attack was claimed by Al-Shabab in retaliation for Kenya intervening military over the border in Somalia, where the extremist group was waging a bloody insurgency against the fragile central government.

Kenya is a major contributor of troops to the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), which in 2011 drove Al-Shabab out of Mogadishu and other urban strongholds after a months-long offensive.

In a car the attackers drove to Westgate, police found evidence of newly-activated SIM cards used by the gunmen. Their communications were traced, including calls to Mohamed Ahmed Abdi and Hassan Hussein Mustafa.

A fourth defendant, Adan Mohammed Abdikadir, was acquitted in early 2019 for lack of evidence.

The Westgate attack was the deadliest incident of violent extremism on Kenyan soil since the 1998 bombing of the US embassy in Nairobi, which killed 213 people.

But since the assault on the shopping complex, Al-Shabab has perpetrated further atrocities in Kenya against civilian targets.

In April 2015, gunmen entered Garissa University and killed 148 people, almost all of them students. Many were shot point blank after being identified as Christians.

In January 2019, the militants struck Nairobi again, hitting the Dusit Hotel and surrounding offices and killing 21 people.

Al-Shabab warned in a January statement that Kenya “will never be safe” as long as its troops were stationed in Somalia, and threatened further attacks on tourists and US interests.

That same month, Al-Shabab attacked a US military base in northeast Kenya in a cross-border raid, killing three Americans and destroying a number of aircraft.